In fall’s election, most Missouri Republicans ran against the Show-Me State’s economy.
Leading up to November’s vote, the GOP highlighted the bad news and ignored the good. Republicans blamed Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, for the state’s moribund recovery from the Great Recession.
Such a strategy, despite its deep cynicism, is fairly standard.
Governors and presidents tend to get blamed or credited for rises and falls in economic indicators far more than the congresses and legislatures that pass the tax laws which ultimately contribute to bull or bear markets.
As Harry Truman said, “the buck stops here.”
Yet as lawmakers prepare to return to Jefferson City to begin another legislative session, it’s worth noting that the new year will mark a decade in power for Republicans in the Capitol. For 10 years, the GOP has had near total control in both the Missouri House and Senate, with each body entering the new session with unprecedented majorities.
What have the Republicans done with those majorities in a decade?
In an analysis by The Associated Press’s David Lieb, the verdict is clear: They’ve cut taxes and reduced spending on social programs, which, for the most part, is what they said they’d do.
Here’s the problem: If cutting taxes was supposed to pave the road to prosperity, why all the potholes?
This is a dilemma the Republicans will have to struggle with in the upcoming legislative session.
If tax cuts really improve the economy, then Missouri’s should be booming. By nearly any measure, the state has among the lowest tax burdens in the nation, much of it the result of Republican policies since 2003. According to the Tax Foundation, Missouri ranks 47th out of 50 in state and local revenue collection. The same foundation ranks Missouri’s corporate tax climate 8th best in the country.
Missouri’s taxes are exceedingly low.
Yet nearly every Republican ran for re-election on a platform that said that because of Mr. Nixon, Missouri’s economy was in the tank. And top GOP representatives and senators already are proposing the same old failed solutions to the economic malaise: more tax cuts.
Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, has pre-filed legislation, for instance, that would cut corporate taxes in half in Missouri over the next five years. Mr. Schmitt argues that the more than $70 million that would be lost to an already tight budget would be more than made up in economic vitality.
Other lawmakers are worried about keeping up with Kansas, which cut its corporate taxes last year and has been using that and other incentives to poach businesses along the border in Kansas City.
Never mind that Kansas is facing a massive budget shortfall that will lead to cuts to schools, health care programs, roads and other infrastructure.
The problem with Mr. Schmitt’s approach is that it ignores the past decade.
If facts matter — call us crazy, but we think they should — then cutting taxes and starving social programs has done nothing but accelerate Missouri’s race to the bottom. Those policies haven’t led to the prosperity the GOP promised. While running for re-election and pointing fingers at the governor, they ignored their own responsibility. To the extent that Mr. Nixon is to blame, it’s because he happily went along with the GOP agenda.
Missouri’s recent history has shown it can’t cut itself to prosperity.
Another approach is needed, one that invests in the state’s future.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.